Wakako Yamauchi Papers

Finding aid created by Jamie Henricks.
Japanese American National Museum
100 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Email: collections@janm.org
URL: http://www.janm.org/
© 2017
Japanese American National Museum. All rights reserved.

Finding aid for the Wakako Yamauchi Papers

Collection number: 2000.300, 2007.17

Descriptive Summary

Title: Wakako Yamauchi papers
Dates: 1970s-2003
Collection number: 2000.300, 2007.17
Collection Size: 10.5 linear feet (8 boxes, 1 oversize folder)
Repository: Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Los Angeles, California 90012
Creator: Yamauchi, Wakako
Abstract: This collection contains items created and collected by Wakako Yamauchi from the 1970s through 2003. Items are mostly related to her writing, including play scripts, correspondence, and short stories. Also included are promotional material, reviews, contracts, and photographs.
Physical location: Japanese American National Museum. 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012.


By appointment only. Please contact the Collections Management and Access Unit (collections@janm.org). Advanced notice is required.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from materials in this collection must be submitted to the Collections Management and Access Unit at the Japanese American National Museum (collections@janm.org).

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Wakako Yamauchi Papers. 2000.300 [or 2007.17 if appropriate], Japanese American National Museum. Los Angeles, CA.

Acquisition Information

The collection was acquired in two parts (in 2000 and 2007) as a gift of Wakako Yamauchi.

Processing Information

Items were originally processed by JANM staff sometime between 2007 and 2016. Folder titles were kept when possible. A finding aid and container list was created in 2017 by Jamie Henricks.

Biographical Note

Biographical information is condensed from the entry on the Densho Encyclopedia online (http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Wakako_Yamauchi/):
Wakako Yamauchi (1924– ) is a distinguished playwright, short-story writer, poet and painter. Through her creative work, Yamauchi draws portraits of people who struggle with their dreams and passions, while facing the psychological trauma of prejudice, economic depression, and the concentration camps of World War II. As a young child and adult, she witnessed the overt racism and harsh labor conditions her parents endured and later built these and other personal memories into the details of her work.
She was born Wakako Nakamura on October 24, 1924, in Westmorland, California to immigrant parents who farmed in the Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border. Yamauchi's mother farmed and also taught Japanese on Sundays at the Buddhist church. When Yamauchi was seventeen years old, she and her family were incarcerated at Poston concentration camp in Arizona (in barrack apartment 12-1-A—the title of a play she would later write). In Poston, she met young Nisei writer Hisaye Yamamoto, a few years her senior and already established in the Japanese American press. Both women worked on the camp newspaper, the Poston Chronicle, as layout artist and contributing writer, and shared an interest in art and literature. After a year and a half at Poston, Yamauchi relocated to Utah and then to Chicago, where she worked in a candy factory and began attending plays, marking the beginning of her love for theater.
In 1948, she married Chester Yamauchi and had a daughter named Joy, though they later divorced. She returned to Los Angeles after the war, where she studied painting at the Otis Art Center and later took a correspondence course in short story writing. In 1960 she was asked by the Los Angeles Japanese American newspaper, the Rafu Shimpo, to contribute to their annual holiday edition and from that year on, Yamauchi regularly contributed to the newspaper's special edition. She also was known as an artist.
In the 1970s, a group of Asian American writers organized a landmark anthology entitled Aiiieeeee!, which published Yamauchi’s short story, "And the Soul Shall Dance" after Hisaye Yamamoto suggested it for inclusion. East West Players’ artistic director Mako read the story and convinced Yamauchi to turn it into the script for a play. The play was first performed in 1974 at the East West Players theater in Los Angeles, winning the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for best new play of 1977. It was later produced as a television drama for the PBS station KCET in Los Angeles. Yamauchi continued her career as a playwright, writing several other scripts including "The Music Lesson," "The Memento," "12-1-A," and "The Chairman's Wife." In 1994, a seminal collection of Yamauchi's plays and stories was published under the title Songs My Mother Taught Me.
She has since received numerous awards and fellowships, including several Rockefeller grants, the Brody Art Fund Fellowship, and the American Theater Critics Regional Award for Outstanding Play. She lives in Gardena, California, and enjoys spending her free time playing blackjack at the Japanese Cultural Institute in Gardena.

Scope and Content

This collection contains items created and collected by Wakako Yamauchi from the 1970s through 2003. Items are mostly related to her writing, including play scripts, correspondence, and short stories. Also included are promotional material for her play productions, reviews, contracts, and photographs. Many certificates of recognition and city proclamations are also in the collection, for Los Angeles and the surrounding area, the state of California, and some for national recognition. A number of ink drawings are also included.

Related Materials

Another collection with a few folders about the East West Players is the Mary Oyama Mittwer collection, held at the Japanese American National Museum.


Original arrangement was preserved from the initial processing. Items are arranged by topic, and correspondence and scripts are arranged alphabetically.

Indexing Terms

Yamauchi, Wakako
Japanese American authors

Additional collection guides: